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Bellingham ends 27-year-old Clean Green program

Elder Riches, a Boy Scout volunteer and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints missionary, throws a Christmas tree on a pile at Bellingham’s Clean Green transfer station on Saturday, Jan. 9. The City Council voted Monday, Jan. 11, to end the Clean Green program.
Elder Riches, a Boy Scout volunteer and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints missionary, throws a Christmas tree on a pile at Bellingham’s Clean Green transfer station on Saturday, Jan. 9. The City Council voted Monday, Jan. 11, to end the Clean Green program. eabell@bhamherald.com

Say goodbye to Clean Green, which was started in 1989 to help residents get rid of tree limbs, leaves and grass clippings from their yards.

The City Council voted 6-0 Monday, Jan. 11, to end the program. That means the city will no longer open the Clean Green Transfer Station at Lakeway Drive and Woburn Street on a weekly, seasonal basis.

Instead, the city will accept residential yard waste from city residents for free during two peak periods, once in spring and the other in fall, as well as after a storm as it did with the windstorm in August.

The station, which is closed for the season, accepts yard debris that includes grass clippings, garden trimmings and tree limbs of a certain size. Collected yard waste is processed and then hauled to Skagit County to be turned into compost.

Council members acknowledged that the program was a popular one, though the number of people using it declined as fees were raised. A total of 11,139 people used it last year, when it cost $10 a load, compared to a high in recent years of 38,456 in 2007, when it cost $4 a load.

In ending the program, the council seemed to be agreeing with a Public Works Department report on the reasons to do so. They include:

▪ Residents have other options for getting rid of their yard waste — both drop-off and curbside service from private companies such as Sanitary Service Company, Recycling & Disposal Services, and Green Earth Technology — that they didn’t when Clean Green started, and at a lower cost.

▪ A new contract, starting in 2016, for hauling and disposal that could mean a 20 percent increase in cost.

▪ Improvements that include making sure the Clean Green site meets city and state requirements for stormwater control and water quality, at a cost of $1 million, should the program continue operating in the same way and at the same place.

▪ The need to use the solid waste fund for higher-priority projects, including waterfront cleanup and dealing with homeless encampments.

Bellingham and Whatcom County started the program, but the county stopped subsidizing Clean Green in 2015. Subsidies come from solid waste tax revenue, and the city’s share has totaled more than $1.6 million since 2002.

It cost $195,399 to operate Clean Green last year, with $109,748 paid in user fees from city and county residents. The city paid the remainder. (User fees were charged starting in 2004.)

“The numbers don’t lie,” said City Councilman Gene Knutson, adding that the amount of money the city has spent subsidizing has been “staggering.”

Knutson and others said they were reluctantly supporting the decision to end Clean Green. Among them was City Councilman Michael Lilliquist.

“I’ve been resistant to giving up the Clean Green program,” he said. “One of the reasons for the program originally was there was problems with (illegal) dumping.”

So Lilliquist liked the idea of the two free seasonal offerings, when demand is at a peak and curbside bins aren’t big enough to hold yard debris like tree limbs.

The spring and fall drop-off offerings are estimated to cost $10,000 each. The city would then chip tree limbs and turn them into mulch for city property or city projects, going back to the idea of re-using the materials locally.

Eric Johnston, assistant director for public works operations, said Tuesday that the city hasn’t yet decided when in the spring or fall people can drop off their yard waste but, based on feedback, the free events could last a week instead of a weekend as originally proposed.

That would be done to prevent a long line of people waiting to drop off yard waste.

Also to be decided is where the drop-offs would occur because the city might not be using the transfer station for that. For example, the yard debris from the August storm was collected at Civic Athletic Complex.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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